“Toys from trash” to learn about science by Arvind Gupta

Toys from trash? Recently I stumbled upon a website and a TED talk by Arvind Gupta, an Indian toy inventor, educator and popularizer of science for kids. Since the 1970s he proves that it takes indeed very little to make science education fun. Gupta creates simple toys from trash and everyday goods and illustrates many scientific principles in a hands-on and memorable fashion.

Science is a game, not a formula

Sometimes teachers and schools tend to complain about the lack of funding or equipment when it comes to science education.  Sometimes that serves as a justification of the fact that students don’t do experiments on their own but learn formulas instead. Sometimes you just don’t have no school but kids want to learn anyway. After watching Gupta’s videos and trying some of his toys and experiment with my son, I am convinced that Gupta has found the right approach. He brings together what isn’t so far from each other anyway: scientific research and playing games. Science means fun, curiosity, discovery and often a game of trial and error. In science education learning formulas should always come afterwards and should never be a stand-alone feature of a lesson.

Arvind Gupta works at the Children’s Science Centre in Pune, India, and is the author of numerous books available in English, Hindi and other Indian languages, including Little Toys (PDF), Science Skills & Thrills: The Best of Arvind Gupta (PDF) and Low-Cost Equipment for Science and Technology Eduction, which is available as a PDF download through the UNESCO.

Most of his low-cost, entertaining toys are explained in one-minute films available on Arvind Gupta’s Youtube channel or his website, but also in pictures.

All images courtesy of Arvind Gupta


The Presidents’ Guide to Science

Scientists created the entire architechture of the 20th century: radio, television, X-rays, Radar, MRI; all of that sprung forth from the mind of a scientist. When people come up to me and say: “You’re a physicist. But what have you guys done for me lately?”, my answer is: “EVERYTHING!” (Michio Kaku)

A few weeks before the US presidential election in 2008, BBC horizon produced a 50 minutes documentary entitled “The Presidents’ Guide to Science”. BBC argues that science and technology in large part provide the immense power to “the world’s most powerful man” (war, health care, energy, …) while most US presidents – like most heads of government around the world – have no background in science. That’s why the BBC asked some of the big names in science to share some words of advice. It couldn’t be verified whether the US president watched it or not. But what the scientists have to say is smart, fascinating and interesting for all of us, not only for presidents.


Crossing the Universe on a Logarithmic Scale

Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames.

“Powers of Ten”, a 1968 short film by Charles and Ray Eames, is a quite impressive application of the logarithmic scale. The film is an adaptation of “Cosmic View”, a 1957 book by Kees Boeke. Both the book and the film deal with very short and very long distances and the relative size of things in the universe. Although Einstein wouldn’t agree with the trip, because very soon the camera travels faster than the speed of light, you should have a look at what it means to cross the universe on a logarithmic scale. Every ten seconds you will add a zero to your distance and stride away from earth by the factor ten: from meters, to 10 meters, 100 meters, 1000 meters and so on. Some minutes later and lightyears away you pass the nearest star. The way back is even faster and leads you through the skin and the DNA to the subatomic scale. Impressive! Enjoy the trip!

Cosmic View by Kees Boeke



The Inconvenient Truth of School Reform

In America right now, a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. These drop-outs are 8 times more likely to go to prison, 50% less likely to vote, more likely to need social welfare assistance, not eligible for 90% of jobs, are being paid 40 cents to the dollar of earned by a college graduate, and continuing the cycle of poverty.

Will “Waiting for Superman” become the “Inconvenient Truth” of school reform? In his new film Oscar winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim follows five families, from the Bronx to Los Angeles, as they search for better schools for their kids.

This week, the film team released an infographic offering a visual narrative around some eye-opening numbers behind the movie.

Waiting For ‘Superman’ – An infographic-driven teaser

Some people are disappointed with the movie as Guggenheim seems to cast the choices for families as good charters or nothing ignoring numerous public school success stories. The director said it was never his intention to demonize teachers or unions but to make a film that was “tough on adults.”

However, “Waiting For Superman” illustrates the dysfunction of a system by giving some well known education statistics a human face and story. It may be a good starting point for a wider discussion.

Not a question of race, a question of the education system! (c) OECD/PISA

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